Thursday, April 1, 2010

Rare Flix: Wes Craven Special

Wes Craven is a man with a storied, horror career.  He brought us The Last House on the Left, which really pioneered the violent, anti-violence film.  He brought us A Nightmare on Elm Street, a film series that helped push the 'likable horror villain' in the mass market.  He brought us Scream, the film that brought back the slasher genre by kind of, sort of making fun of the conventions.  However, I'm not here to talk about those seminal films.  No, I'm here to talk about a film of his from about ten years ago that goes under-recognized by most fans of horror films.  It's a seminal work that shows that Craven could work with any Actors and do any story.  The man has range, dammit, and he's going to prove it to you with...
The film begins with a woman at her worst moment: being left by her husband with two kids in the house.  Oh, the humanity!  The movie shows its true colors early by casting Chloris Leachman as the sentimental grandmother who never cracks a joke.  Severely depressed, the woman runs into a man from her past (Aidan Quinn), who is a successful writer.  He talks to her about her past, which included the goal of playing violin at Carnegie Hall.  He convinces her to go for a teaching job to better herself.  One 'going places' montage later, she is in East Harlem.  They play it for all the subtlety you would expect too.  When she goes to talk to the person in charge of hiring (Angela Bassett), she is turned down due to her lack of experience, lack of time in the inner city and many other good reasons.  The next day, she comes back with her two sons and has them play the violin, proving that she is good.  You're hired!
Our heroine faces many challenges...
* The kids are hard to break and even harder to teach a complicated instrument.
* The other teachers are constantly making it hard, since her's is a 'special class' and interferes with theirs.
* Parents get mad at her for talking mean to their kids...even if it is what they want.
* She has an on/again-off/again relationship with Quinn's character.  Eventually, he says that he won't commit.
* The instrument is hard to learn and takes lots of work.
Eventually, the students put on their big concert at school and impress everyone.  Even the 'jerk teacher who is always against her' has begrudging respect for her.  Wow, this was only an hour long, but it worked.  The End.
Oh wait...there's more.  Yeah, the movie time-jumps 10 years to show her as an established teacher at three different schools.  More problems arise, however, as the school board cuts her funding.  Fortunately, the woman who is doing a story on her class is also married to a famous violinist and friend of other famous violinists.  Yeah, 'Inspired by a true story' my ass!  We also get a sub-plot with the kids setting the mom up, but that leads to very little.  A big concert is set-up to raise lots of money to fund the next year of the program.  Oh no, about 600 problems show up.  I hope they can fix them all in time. 

Oh yes, they do!  The *real* End.
Yeah, this movie is every cliche and trite story element thrown into a gumbo.  Divorced woman?  Check.  Single Mother?  Check.  Stranger in a strange land?  Check.  Hell, the only thing that doesn't happen is her getting cancer or one of the kids dying.  It also clocks in at just about two hours, making it an endurance test for those of you who don't love this crap.  On the plus side, it is a well-acted, well-written and poignant movie...if you're into that.  Here's the big question: are there any major Wes Craven touches?  No, not really.  The only reason he made this movie is as part of a studio deal.  In return for making this movie that he wanted to do, he made Scream 3.  You're welcome, nobody.
By the way, April Fools!
Up next, the Germans pump out a horror comedy with a serious case of bi-polar disorder.  Break out your Nazi Shovels!  Stay tuned...

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